Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.77

ULL: 69.81

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.36 points

Line: Opened App State -2; Moved to ULL -2, Settling around ULL -1

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last meeting: App State 30, Louisiana 19; December 1, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast:¬†Kickoff Temps in the low 80’s cooling to mid-70’s, muggy

Seems like it has been forever since App State football has been considered an underdog in a conference game. It’s been so long that most of us are not even sure how to think about it, or even what it felt like since the last time it happened. When was it? It wasn’t November 12th, 2016 when App played Troy on the road. That game was considered a dead heat, a pick’em. You actually have to go all the way back to November 22nd, 2014. The opponent was Louisiana. We have to go back to the first year App State was in the Sun Belt to find a game in which they were not favored. It’s been a fun ride. Might as well not even show up. Quite honestly, it is shocking, no matter how you look at it. It’s shocking that it has been that many games, and even more shocking that a three-time defending conference champion, who has never lost to their next opponent, who beat them twice last year alone, and is currently undefeated, on a ten game winning streak spanning over two seasons and two head coaches, is an underdog. Keep the chip indeed. But that is exactly what this program is all about. It was just this past December when App State was left for dead, with a skeleton crew of a coaching staff given basically no chance to win despite being favored by just a touchdown, in the state of Louisiana. We all know how that turned out down in the Big Easy. Continue to doubt this program haters. We’re here to prove you wrong.

We all saw this coming last season. Right after Louisiana’s loss to Coastal Carolina at home in 2018, something changed. The Cajuns had lost a couple lopsided games to Alabama and Mississippi State, but the cure came in the way of Texas State and New Mexico State. Two games in which Louisiana scored 108 points combined. Texas State actually had a decent defense. The Cajuns continued to score on every team remaining on the schedule not named Troy or Appalachian State. In 2018, Louisiana scored ten points against Mississippi State. A year later, they lost by just ten points. Scoring isn’t everything, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to play ahead, then play from behind. It also helps when you have an offensive line that is exceptionally big. Aside from the center, the Cajuns are 6’4″ or taller, 300 pounds or heavier at both tackle and guard positions. You don’t average 314 yards a game on the ground with just decent running backs. Improved offensive line play is a big part of the reason the Cajuns won the west division in 2018, and are off to a 4-1 start this year.

But hey, those running backs are still very good. They score touchdowns, and get tons of yards. That’s not even the impressive part. At 7.3 yards per carry, as a team, that’s good enough for second nationally. The 1,570 yards rushing is the most in the country. The 22 rushing touchdowns is also tops nationally. Elijiah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have touchdowns in every game this season. Mitchell has 402 yards rushing and Ragas is sixth in the country with 548 yards. Ragas also has a silly 9.8 yards per carry average. However, over half of those team rushing yards, and touchdowns came against Liberty and Texas Southern. The Cajuns abused those two opponents to the tune of 847 yards and eleven touchdowns, including eight against Texas Southern in a 77-6 win. The Cajuns ran for 9.7 yards per carry in those two games combined. In the last two games against Ohio and Georgia Southern, Louisiana amassed just 560 rushing yards total on 6.4 yards per carry, which still looks pretty good, especially on the road.

Cajun quarterback Levi Lewis has made tremendous strides since last season. It helps that he has this great running game behind him, and is not asked to do too much, but when his number is called, he has excelled. Lewis has completed 65% of his passes for 980 yards and has eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s mobile, and can buy time in the pocket, but doesn’t run the ball unnecessarily. Similarly to Coastal’s Fred Payton, his experience has helped his confidence and allowed him to play faster. A lot of Louisiana’s success will start and end with Lewis. If he can make some plays in the passing game, it could turn into a long night for the Mountaineer defense.

Nearly two weeks ago, we gushed about how well Zac Thomas played against North Carolina, and then all he did was follow it up with an even better performance. Thomas finished 19/ 23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The junior is now completing 71.4% of his passes on the season. His rushing statistics have kind of yo-yo’ed as the season has progressed. After a 57-yard rushing performance the previous game, Thomas was held to just ten yards on six attempts against Coastal. However, Thomas did find a tight end, Colin Reed for his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown grab. He also spread the wealth among his top three receivers, Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams. All three had five or more catches and no fewer than seventy-five yards.

For the first time in 2019, someone other than Darrynton Evans had the most yards for App State in the running game. Daetrich Harrington led the way with with 71 yards on eleven carries. It was a season high in both categories, which also included the Harrington’s first touchdown of the season. Evans carried fifteen times for 60 yards, which in enabled him to keep his wind, but also not get worn down in a game that included a two hour delay. This was likely a one-time deal, a forced hand, for lack of a better term. Don’t expect the split of carries to change any time soon. Evans is the lead back, and Harrington/Williams will get their opportunities as well. Both backs are getting work in every game, despite Harrington (28) slightly outpacing Williams (22) in the carries department.

Both squads have a lot good things going for them. Louisiana fell off the face of the earth in the waning years of the Hudspeth era, but have quickly rebounded after a really smart coaching hire. Sometimes, those good hires come with consequences. Billy Napier has already received a one year extension, which usually means, agents are talking, working for their clients and the school is looking for monetary protection. It’s a smart play. App State just went through that process. The reality is that the previous six games played between App State and Louisiana mean nothing. In the fans eyes, its been six dominating games in a short period of time. The current coaches have not faced off, and Napier has coached in just two of the six games. Eli Drinkwitz will be coaching just his fifth game as the head man. This will be his first true road trip, a journey outside of the borders of North Carolina. But, this will not be first time Drinkwitz has ventured to Louisiana, much less Cajun Field. In 2012, Arkansas State and their running backs coach, Drinkwitz, pummeled the Cajuns 50-27. The familiarity with the Sun Belt may have not been the sole reason App hired Drinkwitz, but it sure did not hurt. You want game analysis? We can do that for a little bit. The Cajuns and Apps will bring a lot of offense to the game. The question comes down to which defense makes a decent play at the right time. The Cajun defense gets a lot of help from their offense. They are not as good as where they are ranked nationally in many defensive categories. Likewise, App State’s defense is not as bad as where they are ranked in the same statistics. We’ve honed in on turnovers for multiple weeks, and it absolutely comes into play again. It’s not lazy, it’s just very important in games with high rates of offense. The Cajuns have fumbled eleven times this season and lost seven of them, including two last week at Georgia Southern on muffed punts. App State has yet to fumble this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. Louisiana’s turnover margin is in the red on the season, while App maintains a top fifteen ranking. If the turnovers happen, they will be huge, for either team. With all the offense this game features, it will be those defensive plays that win, and the Mountaineers have been more opportunistic than the Cajuns.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 38

Mountaineers 45

Louisiana @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 11

Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 28th, 2:00 EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.14
Louisiana: 53.48
Home: 2.68
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Louisiana 16   November 22nd, 2014, Lafayette, LA

In the past twenty days, the Mountaineers have played exactly one football game. That equates to a lot of time to rest, watch film and practice. It serves almost like a minicamp of sorts to iron out all of the wrinkles and sharpen the tools for a stretch run that likely includes three football games over a four week period of time, give or take a couple days. A lot attention has been paid to bowl scenarios and matchups in the down period we have had without football. A lot of uncertainty can be cleared up this weekend as Appalachian can help it’s own cause by winning and eliminating Louisiana from bowl contention. Almost hard to even fathom the kings of the Sun Belt over the past few years not being considered for a bowl game, but it’s the truth. The Cajuns had played in and won four straight bowl games in their backyard and it’s very likely, that one of their biggest rivals will be playing in a postseason game in “their” city. The Cajuns, however, still have plenty to play for. Their season isn’t technically over just yet. They still control their own bowl fate in terms of getting to six wins, but in order to get there, they’ll have to deal with twenty-two Mountaineer seniors who want a win in their final game at The Rock. 

Lousiana’s troubles in 2015 can be attributed to several different factors. The Cajuns have fielded several different starting lineups on the defensive side of the ball. Not once this season have the Cajuns fielded the same starting eleven in two games on defense. Louisiana has constantly been forced to rotate players in and out due to injuries and poor play. Seven different defensive backs have started a game. Seven is also the highest number of starts for any player at one position in the secondary. The boundary corner and the field corner have flipped sides of the field. Eight different players have started at linebacker and seven different players have started on their three man defensive line. 

The  perpetual lineup changes have led to a lack of chemistry that has really shown the last two games. South Alabama and New Mexico State put up the most yards that Louisiana has surrendered all season long. The Jaguars gained 495 yards while the Aggies accumulated 498 yards of total offense. In those two games, the Cajuns secondary gave up six touchdown passes combined. Take it a step further, and the Cajuns have allowed 12 scoring passes in their last four games. Last week, New Mexcio State completed just sixteen passes, but twelve of them went for first downs. 

The quarterback position is a true head scratcher. Louisiana likes to use a two quarterback system, but it’s like nothing you have ever seen. The Cajuns do not lean on a hot hand, or use a quarterback based on an opponents weakness. They just use them recklessly. They will change quarterbacks in the middle of a series, and even in the same sequence of downs. The “passing” quarterback, Brooks Haack has more interceptions than touchdown passes. The “running” quarterback, Jaelen Nixon has more touchdown passes than Haack on thirty-four fewer attempts. Nixon is the team’s second leading rusher with 403 yards. 

One constant for Lousiana has been Elijah McGuire, the junior running back who is rewriting the Cajun record book. McGuire is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. McGuire is 71 yards from eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But, McGuire on the road this season has not been the same player as he has been in Lafayette. In his five road games thus far, McGuire has 296 yards, just under 60 yards per game. McGuire gains 3.5 yards per carry on the road this season, while his numbers at home are nearly double, at 6.7 yards per tote. Only two of his twelve rushing touchdowns are on the road. The only part of his game that improves on the road are his receiving statistics, gathering 23 of his 29 receptions away from home. 

The Mountaineers have been known to gamble this season, with their fake punts and field goals. Perhaps the biggest gamble of the season was giving Marcus Cox a week off in the game against Idaho. Cox was  suited up, but the Mountaineers had looked lackluster on offense the previous two weeks. Instead of asking his star to gut it out, Scott Satterfield looked to the healthier options at running back. Terrance Upshaw got the start, but was quickly supplanted by Jalin Moore. On the second drive of the game, the Apps turned to Moore who ran six times for forty-eight yards on a nine play drive that culminated with a Mountaineer touchdown. The gamble paid off and Jalin Moore became a household name. 

Louisiana has one road victory this season. It was a two point win over Georgia State, a game in which Panther head coach Trent Miles foolishly attempted a fake punt deep in his own territory with the lead. That allowed the Cajuns to kick the game winner and hold on. Georgia State did everything right that day and Louisiana, everything wrong. The Cajuns got the win but they didnt deserve it. In every other road game, they have lost by at least a touchdown this season. If you would have told a Cajun fan at the beginning of the season that they would lose to New Mexico State and beat Georgia State by two, they would have laughed at you. In fact, the Cajuns have only looked like the team we thought they were going to be in two games this season, in wins over Texas State and Northwestern State. The Cajuns will show flashes of brilliance here and there with the talent providing glimpes of their potential. Those big plays have not been there consistently. Luckily, the Cajuns are still in position to extend their season, but it makes one wonder if last weekend’s loss may have been too demoralizing to recover from. For Appalachian, the beat goes on. The Mountaineers looked like the team that started the season in the win over Idaho and two weeks to mend should do their bodies good. The Cajuns gave up chunks of yardage on the ground in their last two games to South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. Louisiana’s weakness in the last handful of games plays right into the Mountaineers hand. Expect to see Appalachian win to send the seniors off in style. 

The First Pick:

Peppers                  19

Mountaineers      38